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Compotting Flaskling "Divots"
Text and Photos by Troy C. Meyers

When grown in flask, some orchid seedlings develop a large amount of root material, but not much "top" material. We see this in many genera, most commonly in cattleya-alliance species, but only some species, while others have a more normal growth habit. Even though there isn't a lot of stem and leaf material there is plenty of biomass, and we've found the keeping in flask or reflasking does not inprove that situation. Potting at this point seems to be the best choice.

Cattleya Divot
A divot of Cattleya aclandiae flasklings just out of the flask.
These plants are nearly 4 years old.
Cattleya Rootmass
Root mass of the Cattleya aclandiae flasklings
  Because most of the biomass of the plants are in the roots it is best to not damage them by trying to separate them. Instead, let them grow as a divot and then separate them much later when the tops have gotten large enough for the plants to tolerate untangling or even root-snipping.

We've found that dense root masses don't need to be embedded in a potting medium, in a sense, the roots are the medium. It seems best to perch the divot on top of a thin layer of moisture-retaining medium which is sitting over a very open, well-draining medium. Sphagnum can be used as the moisture-retaining layer, but if so it must be very thin, less than a quarter of an inch. We have had good results with large sponge rock (1/4-inch perlite) in a thin layer over medium-sized coconut husk chips or charcoal.
Coconut Husk Base
Coconut husk for drainage up to an inch from the top
Perlite Layer
Layer of sponge rock (perlite)
  The flaskling "divot" is then just gently placed on top. Nothing more than vigorous watering is needed to settle it into place.  
Potted Divots
Cattleya aclandiae and Epidendrum conopseum "divots" in place.
The Epidendrum roots have retained more charcoal powder from the flask medium due to their texture.
  The plants are then allowed to grow in the greenhouse. When the tops have grown substantially, the plants can be separated. At that time, if active new-root-growth is in progress it may be less hard on the plants to cut older roots to free them up, rather than to tear them apart.  

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